Thankfully, things are a lot calmer; let us look again at the re-christening of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) a bit more dispassionately. President Jonathan, in a recent broadcast, directed that UNILAG would henceforth be known as Moshood Abiola University.
Very many years ago, 1939 to be precise, the multinational company, Coca Cola singlehandedly remade the image of Santa Claus/Father Christmas. They even changed the colour of Santa’s coat from green (and sometimes, tan) to red. This was done, presumably, to fit in nicely with their product, Coke, and to boost sales. Before then, in America, people related Coca Cola to a mere summertime or hot weather drink.
Also, way, way back in 1630something, Harvard University, America’s oldest tertiary institution and consistently one of the top 5 Universities in the world contemporaneously, used to be known as New College. Back then, the college primarily focused on the training of the Clergy. Then the place got upgraded and was renamed Harvard University after one Rev. John Harvard. College of New Jersey was similarly renamed Princetown University. Same for Yale University; it too used to be a College back in 1701 before it was upgraded.
The operative word here is ‘upgraded.’ They were all Colleges that later achieved full-fledged University status. In the case of New College, Rev. Harvard had been a very big benefactor to the school and was a huge influence during its early history. When the school became a full-fledged University and the name got changed to Harvard, all seemed quite appropriate. I mean, it would be ponderous to call a school ‘New University,’ no? So the change to Harvard seemed logical and apt. The same for the other two schools earlier mentioned.
But could somebody somewhere today go ahead, or even suggest changing the names of these schools now? After all these years? Why not? Could the Chief Executive of Coca Cola wake up today and change the company’s name to Egbejumi, Barack Obama or Ronald Regan?
Another example: When Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in 1997, one British Member of Parliament, Lindsay Hoyle, no doubt caught up in the charged emotion of that moment, called for Heathrow Airport to be renamed after Diana. He was later supported by William Hague, who was then the Leader of the Conservative Party. They were both ignored by the establishment; lampooned by others. Why?
Could David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, one day order that Oxford or Cambridge University be renamed Winston Churchill University? Can Obama ask that the University of Georgia be renamed after Martin Luther King? They cannot. Why? Because, like Coca Cola, over the years, those names have become established brands in their own right. These are brand names now. They mean much more than just the institution they represent. They are established communities – if you will. I think in Economics, the names in themselves would be worth a lot in value; they would be worth a lot of money.
But Cameron and Obama can build new Universities and name them after Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King or any other worthy citizens of their respective countries. If there’s sufficient money in the kitty, Jonathan could do the same.
At that level, you just don’t junk brand names for another – no matter how deserving. You simply don’t throw away a brand name or swap an established brand for another. If you do, something is invariable lost and the institution, the Community (and perhaps all of us) would be poorer for it. Look at the University of Ife; it has never recovered since it was ill-advisedly renamed Obafemi Awolowo University.
Then there is the Nigerian factor. If an institution like UNILAG is flippantly renamed, with a simple wave of the hand, a mad tradition would take hold and it will mirror our usual gauche way of doing things. Jealousy will set in and a follow-follow mentality will be unleashed. Perverse competition will crop up just like the way we went with vehicular registration plates and their meaningless State logos and mantras.
Abubakar Audu, one time governor of Kogi State, in just four short years named everything including the pigeons in that State after himself. A few governors quickly followed his example. Notable were Orji Kalu and Mohammed Lawal. Lawal had ‘Up Lawal’ scrawled on every minibus and water tank he purchased. He then proceeded to his village, grabbed his father, dragged the poor man to the State capital and crowned him the Oba of Ilorin. The next governor, Saraki, wasted no time in telling the elder Lawal to pack his bags and mat and quietly remove himself to his village.
And that is what we do. So Jonathan would do well to rescind a decision that pleases no one and in fact rubbishes his intent. Because before you know it, Delta State University in Abraka would become The JOINT (James Onanefe Ibori New Tech). Abia State University would be renamed KICK (Kalu’s Institute of Cultists & Killers). And for being careless enough to let the First Lady pass through its doors with decidedly un-university-like grammar and communication skills, the University of Port Harcourt would turn into PEJU (Patience Ebele Jonathan University. They would all take pride of place beside BOMB (Bokoharam school Of Martyrs & Brigands).
I’ve always felt that the name ‘Aso Rock’ sounds unreflective. To me, Aso Rock sounds bland, a bit naff. Jonathan can go ahead and rename it MAH, Moshood Abiola House – for obvious reasons…